Baja California: Vaquita Marina top of the endangered species list

Restaurants support movement to minimize environmental impact

Baja California: Vaquita Marina top of the endangered species listImage courtesy of San Felipe.
Image courtesy of San Felipe.

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The Vaquita Marina is a very small cetacean that inhabits only the upper Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. Its peaceful existence has begun to be threatened mainly by nets used by coastal fishermen that lead to their deaths. Failure to take the necessary measures to correct this immediately, will affect the population of this species which will have little chance of survival.

VIDEO : Saving the Vaquita Marina

These mammals are related to whales and dolphins, in which the adults could measure up to five feet long and weigh up to 100 kilos. They are gray and have an uneven dark spot around their eyes, lip area and chin. The young mammals are characterized by being a little darker and its fin is similar to that of sharks. They feed on fish and their natural predators are the orca and sharks.

The vaquita lives in a very small area which makes it one of the species on the planet with limited reproduction rates.

Their home is composed of an area in the northern sector of the Gulf of California, the Mexican states of Baja California and Sonora, facing the Colorado River delta.

During the month of December, some restaurants in Mexicali and Tijuana organized events to celebrate the conservation efforts around this species, while at the same time promoting the consumption of shrimp that are caught by using different methods in the Port of San Felipe, Baja California.

SanDiegoRed.com had the opportunity to interview Ramses Rodriguez, representative of Pronatura Mexico, during the event that was held at the restaurant “Mission 19”, in which the menu that contained a 6 course dish prepared with shrimp was "vaquita-friendly", and prepared by the chef Javier Placencia.

"We work in partnerships with local chefs, chefs from Mexicali, Baja California who are concerned about the environment, and the quality of food they give to their guests," said the representative of Pronatura.

The cause of death of the vaquita, that now has been proven, is that they become entangled in fishing nets called “chinchorros” (hammock style nets), mainly used to catch fish and shrimp. By being entangled in these nets, the vaquita has no way out to be able to go the surface to breathe and ends up drowning.

"Currently what we are doing in Pronatura is developing alternative fishing methods, with people of San Felipe and with local fishermen who are concerned about the conservation of the vaquita," said the representative of Pronatura.

"The IUCN, who compiles the list of threatened and endangered species worldwide, considered that this marine organism is in first place from possibly extinction caused by humans. The last census conducted in the year 2000, we had thought that there were about six hundred of this species left, but in 2006 and 2007 it was estimated that there were only 150 left, "said Ramses Rodriguez.

The figures are frightening which some fishermen in the region are already changing the way they do things, and have become more aware of the damage that has been caused to the ecosystem due to carelessness.

Companies like "San Felipe Seafood" are now composed of fishermen who are committed to the environment, and the label "vaquita-friendly" is beginning to be known in the region. The next time you visit a restaurant when you order shrimp, do not forget to ask for it.

Eduardo.Flores@sandiegored.com

Video : Gerardo.Cornejo@sandiegored.com

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